Fashion, gifts and amazing banana pudding: Women of color find synergy in new business – Democrat & Chronicle

In Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood, you can find fashion, gifts, beauty services and an amazing banana pudding all under one roof.
And if all of that isn’t enough to boost your spirits, a therapist is available as well.
The month-old Women of Color New York is a collaboration of nine women entrepreneurs of color brought together by founder Connie Marple. After raising five children and working as a dental hygienist for 25 years, Marple decided it was time for her to pursue her own dreams.
For the past five years, she has envisioned a business model that involves collaborating with other business owners who are women of color. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she finally took the time to put pen to paper and formulate a business plan. 
After looking at many potential spaces, she and her husband finally found one that was perfect. A former mental health clinic, the space needed only paint, flooring and decorative touches to be converted into her entrepreneurial vision.
A kitchen was at the ready to turn into a café called Shayla J’s Dessert Bar and Bistro, best known for selling several creative versions of banana pudding. A door from the bistro leads to a small, sparkly room where a makeup artist gives her customers glam looks.
In the adjoining space is a boutique that sells gifts, beauty products, clothing, shoes and jewelry. Two former counseling rooms have been converted into space for a wig creator and lash tech. And around the corner is a clinical social worker providing private counseling.
Marple found nearly all of her collaborators through recommendations from people she knew and trusted. 
“Everyone who is here was already in business,” Marple said. “Everyone had a following. Everyone had their own customers and clients.”
By joining forces, they help bring exposure to each other’s businesses.
In their four weeks of business, Marple is encouraged by the community response.
“It’s working the way we thought that it would work,” she said.
Here’s what you can find at Women of Color New York.
Products/services: Clothing and coats in sizes from small to 3X, as well as accessories including scarves, handbags, shoes and jewelry. Many items have a classic aesthetic with a fashionable twist. 
The owner: The founder of Women of Color New York, Connie Marple also owns a clothing boutique within the shop. 
“My love has always been fashion,” Marple said. She went back to school to study fashion design at the University at Buffalo and graduated in December. 
Find online: charliestylenewyork.comInstagramFacebook.
Products/services: Assorted flavors of banana pudding packaged to go, as well as cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, cheesecake cups and candy apples. It also serves light meals such as salads and sandwiches. Full breakfast is served Saturday morning.
The owner: Shayla Johnson has always been the person assigned to take dessert to barbecues and work parties. She created 23 spins of the classic Southern dessert — with three more in the works — and they are now the best seller at her dessert bar. She started selling her banana pudding informally to friends and family informally in 2014, and this is her first brick-and-mortar location. 
Find online: Facebook and Instagram
Products/services: Makeup applications with a soft glam look, as well as one-on-one makeup lessons and wedding packages. Most appointments are in her space, which is decorated with plenty of sparkle, but she will also do weddings on site.
The owner: Enhancing people’s beauty with makeup has been a passion for Olivia Travis throughout her life. She holds an esthetician license and has worked privately and in salons in Rochester. 
Find online:, InstagramFacebook
Products/services: Natural handmade bath and body products. 
The owner: Committed to living a healthy, plant-based lifestyle, Candice Simmons creates all-natural bath and body products. She started her business while living in Atlanta and then moved back to her hometown of Rochester to establish her business . She also has a retail shop at 510 State St. as well as a display at the Shops on West Ridge.
Find online:, InstagramFacebook.
Products/services: Wig creation, styling, touch-ups and color. She also braids natural hair. She works with women of color and cancer survivors and does men’s hairpieces as well. 
The owner: Kiera Goins has been sewing her own clothing since she was a teenager. She started wearing a wig at the age of 19.
“It’s not just for older women,” she explained.
She taught herself how to make her own wigs via YouTube videos. She started making and selling wigs from her home in 2016. Women of Color New York is her first retail location.
Find online:, Facebook, Instagram
Products/services: Lash extensions, lash lifts (like a perm for lashes), lip and brow waxes. She eventually plans to add facials. 
The owner: During the pandemic shutdowns, Jeana Philabounkhoun was working reduced hours at her restaurant management job. When she couldn’t get her lashes done at a salon, she used her newfound free time to start learning how to do her own lashes. She practiced on a mannequin, and her cousins and sisters asked her to do their lashes. She enjoyed the process so much that she enrolled at the Continental School of Beauty and recently graduated with her license. Women of Color New York is her first location.
Find online: Facebook, Instagram
Products/services: Unframed art prints with positive images that reflect the African diaspora.
The owner: Lisa Goff loves history and she also loves art. While she was trying to find artwork for her home, she found little that represented her culture. That inspired her to start Eusi Sanaa, Swahili for “black art,” in 2018. She started her business by holding more than 30 pop-up markets in the Rochester area. Women of Color New York is her first retail location.
Find online: Instagram
Products/services: Handmade scented soy wax candles come in an array of scents including apple cider, cranberry marmalade, hazelnut macchiato, lemon pound cake and more.
The owner: Lauren Barley is a teacher and a mom who has always enjoyed burning scented candles. When she researched making her own, she discovered that many candles have toxic ingredients. She uses natural soy-based wax because it burns clean, holds fragrances longer and lasts longer than traditional paraffin wax. She uses no dyes or additives. She has an online Etsy shop as well.
Find online:, InstagramFacebook
Ivolve Me Wellness
Products/services: Faith-based counseling and personal growth from a licensed clinical social worker. 
The owner: Sylvia Johnson is a licensed clinical social worker as well as an adjunct professor for the graduate program in social work at Roberts Wesleyan College. She spent more than 20 years working in Rochester’s most economically challenged areas. The daughter of a prominent pastor, she understands and respects the importance of faith in the Black community. In her private practice she addresses how mental health and faith can fit together.
Find online: and Facebook
Where: 539 South Ave. 
Hours: The boutique is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call (585) 623-8180. Shayla J’s Dessert Bar & Bistro is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Parking: Off-street parking is available behind the building.
Beauty and wellness services: Available by appointment only; book online through the respective providers. 
This story was originally published with Connie Marple’s name spelled incorrectly. It has been corrected.
Email Tracy Schuhmacher at Follow her on Twitter or Instagram as @RahChaChow. She is food and drink reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle and a storytelling coach for the USA Today Network’s Storytellers Project.Thanks to our subscribers for supporting local journalism.


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